The Flyers Dumped Cutter Gauthier Before He Could Dump Them
3:18 PM EST on January 9, 2024
To be very clear, the Flyers are still in the rebuild phase. Normally, trading away a legit top prospect is not ideal for a rebuild, but—miracle of all miracles—the Flyers actually got a top prospect back. On Monday night, Philadelphia announced that it had traded Cutter Gauthier to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for defenseman Jamie Drysdale and a second-round pick in the 2025 draft. Adjusting for the scope of NHL trades, it's a legit blockbuster: a prospect-for-prospect swap reminiscent of that time Jonathan Drouin was traded for Mikhail Sergachev six years ago, though it's too early now to say which team will end up on the wrong side of this deal.
Or, you could just flatly say that the Flyers have. Who knows about six years down the line, but right now they're losing the best player on paper, less than a week after he won a World Juniors gold medal. Gauthier was the fifth-overall pick in the 2022 draft, and though prospect analysts are a bit pessimistic about whether or not he'll actually pan out as an NHL center (as Corey Pronman noted, Anaheim described Gauthier as a left wing in their press announcement), top-line forwards don't exactly grow on trees. Drysdale himself is no slouch. He's a sixth-overall pick in 2020 that has four years of NHL experience under his belt, though his early career has been marred with injury and he's only played 18 games over the previous two seasons. He is also an offensive-minded defenseman, and the Ducks have a fair number of those going around. It's not hard to see why the Ducks, who have no use for any good NHL players in this particular season, would be slightly more willing than the average team to let him go.
The motivations for moving Gauthier, on the other hand, were more of a mystery for all of 30 minutes, until Flyers GM Danny Briere said that Gauthier informed them over the summer that he didn't want to be a Flyer. The Flyers gave him space, and then—to continue the romantically charged metaphors inherent in player transactions—Gauthier ghosted the front office entirely at World Juniors. The trade happened shortly after, while the Flyers still had any bit of leverage remaining, which also makes the front office hush-hush even more remarkable in its execution: The news of the trade genuinely came out of nowhere.
As for why Gauthier didn't want to play in Philly? Maybe he didn't appreciate going back for another year of college hockey, though judging from what Briere said about it at the time, that was more a symptom than a cause. Maybe he, like many of my so-called "friends" from high school who routinely insult the place I live and think I am too "Philly-pilled," fails to adequately appreciate the city. Maybe he didn't trust the new front office, including Briere, who is in his first year as an NHL GM and hadn't been the one to draft Gauthier (that honor goes to Chuck Fletcher). Maybe the Tortorella gauntlet just wasn't very appealing to him. Maybe it's because he was a Pittsburgh Penguins fan growing up, and while childhood fandom would be an extreme reason to turn down an NHL job, it is also a sort of moral conviction that I hope I would have. Still, that would have at least as much truth in it as the professionally contrived rumors that Kevin Hayes, all the way in St. Louis, somehow had a say in Gauthier not signing.
In light of Gauthier not wanting to sign, the Flyers did well in at least getting Drysdale and a second-round pick. Of course, the consolation package will definitely mean that neither Flyers management nor the famously forgiving Philly fans are going to take the snubbing personally, even if, in Briere's words, "He looked at us at the draft and told us that he was built to be a Flyer. Wanted to be a Flyer. A few months later, he told us that he didn’t want to be a Flyer."
The Ducks will at least be a little sad about it, too. In particular, Gauthier's similarly World Juniors–winning countryman Trevor Zegras will be losing his buddy who he does everything together with, including peeing together, getting injured together, and sleeping together. That sounds like the sort of dedicated ride-or-die fella that you'd want on your team, and a fair stretch better than someone who'd commit then backtrack a mere year later. Always remember: There's no sense in liking a guy who doesn't like you.